My new novel, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, will be released next Tuesday! It’s time to give you a glimpse of the prologue and Chapter One:
* * *
“Sarah, you’ll have to stay here tonight to take care of Philip and
Gertie during the party.”
Sarah nodded, her dark eyes revealing nothing of the deep resentment
she felt toward her mistress. She should have known. The children
would have to stay upstairs while guests thronged the ballroom
on the first floor. Though Mrs. Violet Peppernell paid Sarah a high
compliment by trusting her with Philip and Gertie, Sarah nursed a
smoldering anger at being unable to go home to see her daddy, who
would be leaving tomorrow. Mrs. Peppernell knew that, but she didn’t
care about him. He was invisible to her.
Sarah fed Philip and Gertie upstairs in the nursery and then told
them a long story before putting them to bed. They liked her stories.
They were sweet children, but it wasn’t the same as rocking in her
mother’s chair and spinning tales for her nieces and nephews.
While Philip and Gertie slept, Sarah stood staring out the window,
wondering what was happening at home. She was going to miss her
daddy. Tears stung her eyes and rolled slowly down her cheeks as she
tried to imagine her life without him, but she wiped them away impatiently.
Mama had told her to be strong. After all, she was fifteen,
practically a grown woman. And these auctions were just a part of
It was just after one o’clock in the morning when Mrs. Peppernell
came upstairs and Sarah was finally able to go home. She walked
across the sweeping front lawn of Peppernell Manor guided by the
light of the full moon, listening to the rustling of the oaks, then veered
off into the small wood where she lived with her extended family and
the other slaves in small, dingy cabins. It was silent in the woods except
for the nighttime insects with their soothing chirps and clicks.
Sarah tiptoed around the small garden plot in front of her cabin
and started up the wooden steps, being careful to avoid the creaky
spots so no one would wake up. She was reaching for the door handle
when a soft noise made her turn around. She tilted her head, listening
She heard it again. It was a shuffling sound coming from the cabin
next door. The family that had lived there had all gone away, Sarah
didn’t know where, so the cabin was supposed to be empty. Maybe
there was an animal inside.
Quietly, she walked to the next cabin and peered in the front door.
She didn’t want to meet a fox or an angry raccoon.
But it was too dark to see anything.
She was afraid to step inside. She had second thoughts and started
to back away toward her own cabin.
That’s why she wasn’t able to stop her daddy when he killed himself
a split second later with a flash of light and the roar of a shotgun.
* * *
It had been a long drive to South Carolina, but Lucy and I had made
the best of it, giggling through nursery rhymes, eating fast food, making
silly faces at each other in the rearview mirror, and playing I Spy
on every highway between Chicago and Charleston.
We arrived one sultry afternoon in late August last year. I barely
remembered the back roads from Charleston to Peppernell Manor, so
it was like watching the scenery unfold over the miles for the first
time. Spanish moss hung low to the ground from stately trees over a
century old. Perfectly still water reflected the magnolias and camellias
and the hazy sky in the Lowcountry lakes and waterways that we
passed. Lacy clumps of wildflowers nodded languidly as we drove
by. Lucy was interested in everything that whizzed past the windows
of the car, commenting excitedly on all the new sights as we drove toward
“Look at the cows! Moo!”
“Look at the pretty flowers!” she would pipe up from the backseat
in her high-pitched little-girl voice. I loved driving with her because
she helped me see all the things I missed with my adult eyes.
As we got closer to Peppernell Manor, I found myself sharing her
excitement. I hadn’t been there since college. My thoughts stretched
back to the only other time I had visited South Carolina, when Evie
took me to her home for a long weekend. We had gone sightseeing in
Charleston, horseback riding, boating on the Ashley River, and on a
tour of an old Confederate field hospital nearby. But despite all the
fun we had, it wasn’t the activities I remembered best about that
trip—it was her house.
Manor, actually. Peppernell Manor had been in her family for
generations and even though it had seen better days and was in need
of some work, it was exquisite. As a lover of art I could appreciate
its romance and graceful architecture, but as a history major I was
more interested in the home’s past as a plantation house.
It was to this plantation house that I was returning, this time with
Until next week,